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‘Peace is the only true direction of human progress’

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‘Peace is the only true direction of human progress’

The series of events unfolding in the country today—sparked by the terrorist attacks of the Maute group in Marawi City on May 23, 2017, leading to the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao—has wrought fear, anxiety and pain among the Filipino people.

Journeying with our people through these troubled times, we, the members of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines (AMRSP), who witness and experience with them these present events against a backdrop of martial law memories, express deep sadness and grave concern.

We deplore:

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The violent attacks of the Maute group in Marawi, a city so central to the life and faith of our brother Muslim Filipinos, and the equally violent reaction of government troops. The armed conflict has now lasted for weeks, resulting in the loss of lives and property, the displacement of thousands of families fleeing the fighting, and a climate of fear and unrest that has gone beyond Marawi.

The sacrifices our soldiers and their families have to endure as the fighting continues, and pray for an immediate end to the conflict to minimize the loss of lives and damage
to property.

The sufferings of civilians caught in the crossfire between government troops and the terrorists, and who face uncertain dangers as they flee neighborhoods that have become battlegrounds, or seek protection in evacuation centers.

The innocent lives lost, families shattered, livelihoods disrupted, and children traumatized by the experience of violence.

The malicious attempts by individuals, groups or sectors to portray the Marawi conflict as a religious crisis, pitting Muslims against Christians, when the situation is clearly the result of terrorist acts regardless of race or religion.

However, in the face of President Duterte’s response to the Marawi crisis, which was to impose martial law over the entire island of Mindanao, we are gravely concerned.

We believe that the imposition of martial law in Mindanao is not the proper response to terrorist attacks in just one city of a vast island. The declaration of martial law is an extreme measure and, based on the reports from our contacts on the ground, is a reaction disproportionate to the situation.

Heeding the counsel of antiterrorism experts and advocates, we feel that such a drastic and sweeping government response to terrorist activity would only enhance the perception of power and social impact that the terrorist groups aim to achieve locally and internationally.

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We reject the strategy of war being pursued against terrorists in the manner the Duterte administration is waging the war on drugs. In a war against Islamic State terrorists, as in the current war on drugs, it is the poor who are the greatest victims, often dismissed as “necessary collateral damage.”

Like millions of our countrymen who still recall the horrors of martial law in the 1970s, we are alarmed that a similar situation now hovers over the Filipino people. The Marcos-imposed martial law was replete with experiences and memories of human rights violations, abuse of power and authority over innocent civilians, of illegal arrests, disappearances and torture.

We believe that the Marawi crisis can be resolved without necessarily proclaiming martial law over the entire Mindanao. After all, government forces were able to contain similar violent terrorist activities in Ipil on April 3, 1995, and Zamboanga City on Sept. 9, 2013.

Therefore, after intensive study and discussion, searching and listening to the sharing of our mission partners and fellow workers in the actual areas of crisis, and prayerful discernment on how to respond to the situation as religious men and women working with and for the poor and marginalized sectors, we make this stand on the Marawi crisis.

We reject the imposition of martial law and the suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in Mindanao as a sweeping solution to the crisis. Such an approach only blinds the government to the real socioeconomic problems in Mindanao, which even President Duterte acknowledges are among the root causes of the crisis.

We support our men and women in uniform, in the military and police forces, who risk their lives to defend the country and protect civilians. We trust that their loyalty and allegiance is to the nation and to democratic processes and respect for human rights.

We extend assistance to the civilians caught in the crossfire, innocent victims who do not deserve to be simply dismissed as “collateral damage” in an armed conflict.

We stand in solidarity with the men and women, Muslims and Christians alike, seeking peace.

We pray for an early resolution of the crisis and for justice to be given to all.

We pray for wisdom, tact and prudence for our leaders in these difficult times, that they always choose and tread the path of peace.

• We pray that in the face of this crisis confronting not just Marawi or Mindanao but the entire nation, our people, especially the youth, do not fall into frustration and despair but continue to find courage in themselves and each other, and trust in the good will of our civil and military leaders as defenders of democracy and human rights.

For our part, the AMRSP will focus on what it can do now in terms of relief assistance, in vigilance, in fostering a culture of peace and not hatred, and in addressing the social issues.

In conclusion, we take to heart the words of Pope Francis in his address during the celebration last Jan. 1 of the 50th World Day of Peace, which echoed the words of Blessed Pope Paul VI at the 1st World Day of Peace. Sadly, yet challengingly for us, they continue to ring true till today:

“Peace is the only true direction of human progress—and not the tensions caused by ambitious nationalisms, nor conquests by violence, nor repressions which serve as mainstay for a false civil order.” (The Pope’s message for 50th World Day of Peace, 1)

With the peacemakers and human rights defenders and advocates, we say:

Resolve the crisis in Marawi!
End martial law in Mindanao!
Uphold and defend human rights!

Sr. M. Regina Kuizon, RGS and Fr. Cielito Almazan, OFM are cochairpersons of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines.

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